Europe’s Last Medieval Landscape

Visiting Tarnava Mare gives you a glimpse of what Europe would have looked like in the past. The gently undulating patchwork quilt lies across the landscape, with none of the boundaries and barriers we are used to today. Fences don’t keep the cows and sheep in order- Shepherds do that. Many roads are un-surfaced dirt tracks that force you to slow down and appreciate the sights and sounds around you.

In the southern part of Eastern Europe, on the southern edge of the Romanian Carpathian mountains are the Saxon Villages of Transylvania. The area of the Saxon Villages has a population of around 100,000 people living in 150 villages.

The area we are celebrating here is Tarnava Mare with 23 villages and about 23,000 people living in one of Europe’s last medieval landscapes. This stunning landscape has remained unchanged for 800 years. The traditional farming practices, passed down from father to son for centuries have lead to an abundance of flowers and wildlife.

The grasslands, the arable strip farming and the woodlands, together create a typical medieval land-use pattern. There are forested ridges and gullies, pasture and hay meadows on gentler slopes and terraces, and arable land and smaller meadows on the flat valley bottoms near villages. Landscapes like this have disappeared from most of modern Europe.

“Firstly, thank you very much for making our trip to Romania so interesting and varied. It became much more than the mountain holiday I expected. It was also stimulating intellectually because of the mixed professions of the group – conservationists, community development, social work, medicine and Neil who has opinions about everything.

This generated numerous heated debates about the best ways forward for Romania. As you know debates on mountain holidays are normally about food and where the next pint will be found. Finally, the honey! Absolutely delicious. Unfortunately consumed within a few days of returning. I should have brought back 20 jars.”

— William McAllan, Scotland

The scientific and cultural importance

  • Few such extensive tracts of ancient landscape survive in Europe, and where they do persist they rarely retain intact villages and associated agriculture. Both fauna and flora are outstanding.
  • The lowland possesses not only Europe’s most extensive non-alpine hay-meadows, with an astonishing diversity of wildflowers, but also the continent’s last lowland bears and wolves.
  • The villages, layout, farming practices and landscapes provide an opportunity to study historical ecology by direct observation.
  • Village farm gardens are authentic practical assemblages of fruit trees, flowers, herbs and vegetables – living elements in a medieval landscape.
  • Villages retain a rich heritage of the sort of ancient medicinal plants that are again attracting attention from the pharmaceutical industry.
  • The flora is an important genetic resource, especially rich in forage crops such as sainfoin and clovers, and crop relatives such as wild cabbages.

Fundatia ADEPT Transylvania is carrying out research into the important habitats and wildlife of the area and working with farmers to protect them. See

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